What Moldy Foods Can You Eat?

You just got a pint of strawberries, and it’s already got a fuzzy white patch of mold. Should you toss the few fuzzy berries and eat the rest or throw the whole batch away?

Molds are a type of fungi found in virtually every environment with moisture and oxygen. They are important and desirable because they help break down organic material like fallen leaves and dead trees. Some molds even produce medicines like penicillin.

Molds can have many benefits – just not on our food. Here’s how to handle moldy strawberries (and other foods) and ways you can prevent mold from ruining your food altogether.

Why Does Mold Appear on My Food?

Mold loves warmth and moisture and grows rapidly on fruits, vegetables, soft cheeses, lunch meat and bread.

“It also needs oxygen to grow,” said Amanda Spina, a registered dietitian with Banner Health. “Bruised, damaged or punctured foods are even more inviting to mold.”

Mold produces spores that give moldy food its color (green, white, black or grey), but mold also grows inside the food. It has thread-like roots that run deep within our food – only visible with a microscope.

“Mold reproduces when spores float through the air and land on a moist surface,” Spina said. “As the spores take root in food and if the conditions are right, they begin to use the nutrients from the food to quickly multiply and create more spores, ruining some foods within a matter of hours.”

Can Eating Moldy Food Make Me Sick?

There are many types of mold – some are benign, some can cause allergic reactions, and some create extremely dangerous toxins.

Consider mold a game of Russian roulette and ask yourself if it is worth the gamble.

“Best case scenario, nothing happens if you eat moldy food,” Spina said. “Some molds are actually beneficial. Mushrooms are technically fungi and blue cheese is made with a specific type of mold.”

Some mold may cause you to develop an upset stomach. Worst case scenario, some molds can turn into mycotoxins, poisonous substances that can make people very physically sick.

“Typically, where mold is found, bacteria are found as well,” Spina said. “Bacteria can cause foodborne illnesses, with symptoms of diarrhea and vomiting.”

What Should I Do If I Accidentally Eat Moldy Food?

While the texture and flavor may make you gag, don’t panic. Most people will be just fine but watch for any symptoms.

“Having shortness of breath or trouble breathing, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea within a day or so of eating moldy food could be a sign of food poisoning or an allergic reaction,” Spina said.

Symptoms of mold exposure are not usually an emergency, but in some instances, you should seek immediate attention. Go directly to the emergency department or call 911 if you have significant trouble breathing or an allergic reaction that does not respond to your usual medication or seems worse than usual.

If you find mold on soft food like strawberries, toss it out.

Soft food has a high moisture content, so mold and bacteria can grow. If there is evidence of mold, assume the entire package of food is contaminated with mold spores and throw it out. “Even if it is tempting to separate the individual foods with visible mold, there is mold growing deep within that isn’t visible to the naked eye but can survive for incredibly long periods,” Spina said. “Don’t even open the container of food, if possible, as mold spores can be released into the air and contaminate other items.”

Foods you should discard include:

Soft fruits and vegetables
Bread and baked goods
Cooked food and leftovers
Jam and jellies
Nut butter
Deli meat, bacon and hot dogs
Yogurt and sour cream
Soft cheeses

However, getting rid of mold on hard foods, like hard cheese and foods with inedible peels or rinds is easier.

“You may be able to safely cut around the mold of hard cheeses like Parmesan or peel the skin off bananas and citrus, but again, ask yourself if it is worth the risk,” Spina said. “When in doubt, it’s best just to throw it out.”

What is The Best Way to Prevent Mold in Food?

Some foods are more mold-prone than others, but there are steps you can take to keep your mold-free.

1. Wash fruits and vegetables with running water, dry them thoroughly and keep them in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator, which is designed to keep these foods in an optimal environment to preserve freshness.

2. Don’t use fancy produce washing products, bleach solutions or other disinfecting products. Some people wash with vinegar or baking soda solution, but studies show that plain running water does a great job cleaning food. No washing method will remove 100% of dirt, bacteria, pesticides, etc.

3. Eating fruits and vegetables is more important than stressing over how to wash them. Wash and scrub fruits and vegetables under running water, even if you do not plan to eat the peel. When you cut, germs on the peel or skin can get inside fruits and vegetables.

4. Keep foods covered in the refrigerator – preferably in an air-tight container – as spores are airborne and can circulate and contaminate other foods. Keep your fridge and freezer clean and at the proper temperatures (<40 and <0 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively). Wipe up spills and crumbs immediately, so those don’t grow mold too.

5. If something requires refrigeration, do not leave it sitting out for long periods of time.

6. To reduce food waste from spoiled food, don’t buy more than you can eat in a short timeframe, and eat it as soon as possible. Look at expiration dates when purchasing foods and be mindful of sell-by and use-by dates to give yourself adequate time to consume them. Label foods you prepare at home, so you know how long they have been in the refrigerator or on your counter.

Takeaway

Mold is found everywhere – indoors, outdoors and in our food. While small amounts of mold won’t likely cause you any harm, it’s best to toss food out at the first sight of mold. Typically, where there is mold, bacteria might also be found. So don’t make it a habit of eating moldy food.